According to the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP), pediatric nurse practitioners (PNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who focus their treatment on the needs of children. They typically specialize in either acute care (PNP-AC) or primary care (PNP-PC), taking on varied responsibilities such as monitoring chronic and acute illnesses; performing diagnostic exams; providing holistic care, paying thought to a child’s environment or mental health conditions; conducting physical assessments; prescribing medications; ordering and analyzing laboratory tests; coordinating treatment plans with other medical professionals; giving immunizations; offering counseling; and educating young patients and their parents about practices for optimal health (e.g., nutrition).
Prior to pursuing national certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCP), PNPs must pursue a graduate degree in nursing. As of April 2018, a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a post-master’s certificate in the pediatric subfield is the minimum academic requirement for entry into this career, although the doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is quickly becoming the degree of choice for employers. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) notes that this terminal nursing degree provides a practice-focused alternative to a PhD, and there are many reasons for the increasing adoption of the DNP such as the evolving demands of a complex healthcare landscape; widespread concern about patient safety and outcomes; and the incidence of doctorally prepared professionals across other fields of healthcare (e.g., PsyD, MD, DDS, etc). There are currently over 264 DNP programs across 48 states and many more are in the planning stages. Furthermore, some schools such as the prestigious Johns Hopkins University are dropping their MSN programs in favor of the DNP. JHU stated, “The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing is sunsetting the MSN Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner track and is no longer accepting applications. Please consider the DNP Pediatric Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program.”
The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) reports that 4.6 percent of NPs nationwide are focused on pediatric primary care, and there’s expected to be a robust demand in the pediatric subfield on into the future. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) found that there was a startling shortage of pediatric specialists across the US, and unless there is increased promotion of this specialization and greater availability of education in this field, the number of PNP professionals will be woefully inadequate to meet future demand.
One way NP educators are rising to this challenge is increasing the number of online graduate programs for PNPs in both the acute and primary care subfields. These distance-based programs comprise web-based coursework and clinical practicums, which are completed close a student’s home. Not only has the increasing acceptance and standardization of online PNP programs made preparing for this career more convenient, but the widening adoption of online education has been one important step in combating the shortage of qualified, credentialed PNPs nationwide.
Read on to discover the prerequisites, coursework, and pathways in accredited online PNP programs, as well as how to seek national certification in this specialty.
Between 2017 and 2018, NursePractitionerSchools.com collected data on tuition figures, program start dates, and other information about more than 640 online NP programs. These are at the MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP levels. To qualify as “online,” the program had to include less than 10 campus visits total throughout the duration of the program. Please note that while the following table only includes MSN and DNP degree programs, a majority of these institutions have post-master’s certificate pathways as well. These are ranked by total (not annual) program tuition for out-of-state students, as well as a cost-per-credit calculation and information about program start dates and the number of required campus visits. While the utmost efforts were made to ensure accuracy, tuition figures are continually being updated, and aspiring PNPs are encouraged to contact program representatives for the latest costs. To add programs or correct existing information, please contact us.
Although the prerequisites for an online pediatric nurse practitioner program vary by degree desired and point of academic entry, there are some commonalities. In order to secure admission to an online PNP program, applicants are typically expected to submit the following:
Typical admissions requirements to online DNP-PNP programs include:
While many online programs don’t require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Miller Analogies Test (MAT) scores, some schools such as Vanderbilt University do. For online MSN-to-DNP programs, candidates may also be required to have achieved national certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCP).
Finally, candidates for online PNP programs are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their schools or programs. There are two main types of certification: institutional and programmatic. For institutional accreditation, there are six regional entities which have been approved by the Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
For programmatic accreditation, there are two main organizations which recognize nursing programs: the aforementioned Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). To learn more about the accreditation of distance-based PNP programs, please visit the accreditation entity websites or the main online NP programs page.
For online pediatric nurse practitioner programs at all levels, there is typically a group of core courses common to NP programs and specialty electives. In addition to distance-based classes, aspiring PNPs typically garner real-life experience through approved clinical preceptors located close to their homes. The number of clinical hours depends on whether the person is pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN), a post-master’s certificate, or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP).
In online MSN and post-master’s programs in the PNP specialty, classes may include:
Lastly, online DNP programs—focused on developing NP leaders and managers—typically share courses, regardless of the specialty. Classes in online DNP PNP programs may include:
Prior to applying to any online PNP program, students are advised to verify the state authorization status of their schools. There are varying regional laws surrounding the administration of distance-based education, and it’s important to check eligibility. Many schools list any restricted states with details on their “state authorization” page.
Some schools such as the University of Arizona provide state authorization maps on their program pages. Others such as Vanderbilt University provide an “Out of State Requirements” page, noting some of the distance-education restrictions across states such as Georgia, Louisiana, New York, and North Carolina.
Notably, there’s one piece of legislation, which has tried to facilitate the delivery of online education between states. The State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA), authorizes compact states to provide online schooling to other SARA state members. The vast majority of US states are in the agreement, apart from California and Massachusetts.
Overall, the surefire way to confirm one’s eligibility is to reach out to program coordinators for details.
For candidates with an associate degree in nursing (ADN) seeking to advance their credentials, there are few distance-based ADN-to-MSN (sometimes known as RN-to-MSN) options in the PNP specialty available due to the essentially hands-on nature of early training for this discipline. It’s important to note that the following program is hybrid (i.e., on-campus and online) as there are currently no 100 percent online options for this academic pathway.
Vanderbilt University offers hybrid ADN-to-MSN PNP programs in both the acute care (PNP-AC) and primary care (PNP-PC) specialties, accommodating varying points of academic entry (e.g., ADN, BSN). To qualify, ADN candidates must have an RN license and at least 78 semester hours (110 quarter hours) of postsecondary work, completing classes such as human anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, statistics, human physiology, and general education breadth requirements. The first year is considered pre-specialty, and students do not need to relocate to Tennessee at that time. This initial phase is in a “modified distance learning format,” requiring up to four campus visits per semester for concentrated blocks of in-person coursework. In its online PNP-AC program, Vanderbilt provides instruction in pathophysiologic concepts, health promotion of behavior development (birth through adolescence), and advanced practice nursing in pediatric acute care. Please note that pediatric experience is required for applicants in the AC subfield. In its online PNP-PC program, the School of Nursing imparts the fundamentals of primary care through classes such as advanced practice nursing in primary care and the APN role in the US healthcare delivery system. Please note that there are eight on-campus “block periods” required annually. Notably, Vanderbilt ranked fourth among the US News & World Report’s 2018 rankings of the top PNP-PC programs in the country.
Lastly, online ADN-to-MSN programs differ in length, but typically require three years to complete. Some award a BSN degree en route.
As mentioned in the introduction, some schools such as Johns Hopkins University are “sunsetting” their online MSN programs in favor of the terminal degree of the discipline: the doctor of nursing practice (DNP). That said, for aspiring pediatric nurse practitioners seeking the quickest academic route to joining this high growth NP specialty, pursuing an online master of science in nursing (MSN) may be the best option.
Students are urged to verify the accreditation status of their schools, seeking out online PNP programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). Please note that many of these MSN programs can also be taken as post-master’s certificates for NPs seeking to add a new specialty. Additionally, a few schools such as Kent State (profiled in “DNP programs” below) open their online PNP program admissions to RNs with non-nursing bachelor’s degrees following a portfolio review. To ensure eligibility, students are urged to contact program coordinators with questions.
The Duke University School of Nursing also offers online MSN programs in both the acute and primary care subspecialties of PNP. These part-time programs take seven semesters (including summers) to complete. Duke’s online PNP-AC program involves 43 credits of coursework in areas such as acute care clinical management strategies, as well as 616 clinical hours to be completed at approved preceptor sites. This is the only PNP-AC program in North Carolina. Impressively, Duke’s online PNP-PC program was ranked second among US News & World Report’s (2017) top programs in this category. Both require minimal campus visitation.
Finally, the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has online MSN PNP programs in the PC specialty and a unique AC/PC dual offering as well. Students are required to visit campus four times: once for orientation, and three times for multi-day intensive sessions for hands-on teaching and skill evaluations. For the 44-credit online MSN program in the PNP-PC specialty, UAB requires students to garner 560 hours of patient care experience, and it’s offered with two subspecialties: forensic nursing and palliative care. Coursework includes translating evidence into practice, advanced pediatric nursing, and a residency. In the online MSN PNP-AC/PC dual program, students must complete 54 credit hours and 1,020 hours of patient care. Students also have the option to complete a palliative care subspecialty.
The online BSN-to-MSN PNP programs vary in length by a student’s part- or full-time status, but they typically take 18 months to two years to complete. Coursework varies by prior college courses completed, but generally involves at least 42 credits, some of which may be transferred from prior programs. Contact individual program coordinators for details.
To learn more about distance-based MSN PNP programs, please visit the relevant sections of the online NP programs page.
In addition to the online MSN programs above—many of which can be taken as post-master’s certificates—there is a wide variety of distance-based PNP-AC and PNP-PC certificate programs. These programs may be ideal for master’s-prepared nurses who are seeking to add a new specialty and prepare for national certification exams. Interestingly, there are more online post-MSN certificates in the primary care subfield than acute care, although the MSN programs profiled above feature options for aspiring PNPs in acute care.
Northern Kentucky University (NKU) provides an online post-master’s certificate in the PNP-PC specialty, requiring minimal campus visitation. Web-based classes at NKU include health promotion & disease prevention; issues in advanced practice; pediatric pharmacology; primary care of pediatric patients; primary care of adolescents; and children with chronic illness & special needs.
Saint Louis University also has an online post-master’s certificate in the PNP-PC specialization, focusing on the provision of healthcare for patients up to age 21. With only two campus visits required, Saint Louis offers distance-based classes in health promotion, management of acute & chronic conditions, and disease prevention.
Lastly, the Stony Brook School of Nursing in New York also provides a distance-based post-master’s certificate in the PNP-PC specialty. With minimal on-site visitation, Stony Brook gives students instruction in areas such as advanced theory & clinical practice in child health nursing (I-IV); organizational leadership & role transformation; health policy & advocacy; health assessment of the child; and pathophysiology across the lifespan.
The online PNP certificate programs vary in length by whether a student enrolls part- or full-time, but they typically take one to two years to complete. Coursework varies by prior college courses completed, but generally involves at least 15 credits, some of which may be transferred from prior programs. Contact individual program coordinators for details.
To learn more about distance-based, post-master’s PNP certificates at places such as Ohio State University (OSU) or Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis (IUPUI), please visit the program websites or the main online nurse practitioner schools page.
As mentioned in the introduction, the terminal degree in nursing—the doctor of nursing practice (DNP)—is increasingly becoming the new standard for employment as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Most BSN-to-DNP programs award an MSN degree en route, but prospective students are urged to contact program coordinators for details. These programs are more practice-focused than PhDs, but they may involve the completion of a capstone project, dissertation, or original research project. Fortunately, there is a wealth of online programs available. Please note that these schools also typically accommodate post-MSN applicants as well.
Rush University provides online BSN-to-DNP PNP programs in the acute and primary care specialties, requiring minimal campus visitation. Students complete clinical rotations at facilities close to their homes in areas such as cardiovascular surgery, nephrology, neurosurgery, oncology, endocrinology, and infectious disease, to name a few. These CCNE-accredited programs cost $1,066 per credit hour and vary in length by PNP subfield. For instance, the online PNP-AC DNP program lasts 2-3.7 years and can be taken only in a part-time format. It features coursework in organizational & systems leadership; applied epidemiology & biostatistics for nursing practice; health promotion in individuals & clinical populations; applied pharmacology (pediatrics); and leadership in evolving healthcare environments. By contrast, the online PNP-PC DNP program takes 2-3 years and is offered in both part- and full-time formats, involving similar coursework.
The University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) online DNP program in the PNP field generously accommodates many points of academic entry, including applicants with associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degrees. The post-BSN option typically takes four years to complete and includes 1,000 supervised clinical hours. Both the online PNP-AC and PNP-PC programs prepare students to safeguard their young patients’ health through rigorous training in disease prevention, management of various conditions, and promoting health-positive behaviors. UIC graduates have gone on to work in pediatric offices, hospitals, clinics, schools, emergency rooms, and specialty practice centers. The curricula for both subspecialties (AC and PC) is grounded in recommendations from the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF), the Association of Faculties of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners, and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP).
The University of Nebraska Medical Center provides a three-year, online DNP program in the PNP-PC area of focus, involving coursework in graduate statistics; health promotion for populations; applied pharmacology for advanced practice nurses; healthcare policy; epidemiology; and methods for assessing clinical practice outcomes.
The online BSN-to-DNP PNP programs vary in length by whether a student enrolls part- or full-time, but they typically take three to four years to complete. Coursework varies by prior college courses completed, but generally involves at least 67 credits, some of which may be transferred from prior programs. Contact individual program coordinators for details.
To discover the gamut of distance-based DNP PNP schools, check out the online DNP programs page.
At the post-master’s level, much of the online DNP coursework is shared with other NP specialties (e.g., adult-gerontology, women’s health, etc). As with the sections above, please note that these programs accommodate varying points of academic entry.
One example is the 100 percent online, post-master’s DNP program at Kent State University. For MSN-to-DNP candidates, it takes two years (five semesters) to complete. Designed for NPs interested in advanced leadership roles, Kent exposes its students evidence-based practice, information systems, and quality improvement in a healthcare setting. Its experienced faculty teach classes such as clinical analytics, population health, and organizational systems, and all DNP students are required to complete an original research project.
The University of Missouri—Kansas City provides an online DNP PNP program, admitting both post-BSN and post-MSN candidates, requiring an annual summer residency to foster deeper, in-person relationships with colleagues and professors. In addition to the mandatory 1,155 clinical hours, students complete classes including cultural diversity & values; healthcare economics & quality; advanced health assessment skills; pathophysiology across the lifespan; and healthcare outcomes & epidemiology.
The University of South Alabama (USA) accommodates many points of academic entry for its online DNP PNP programs (AC and PC). In these two year (six semester) programs, students are required to travel to campus for a 3-4 clinical orientation during the fall semester. In the online MSN-to-DNP program in the PNP-AC specialty, students complete 600 clinical hours in an acute care setting (e.g., pediatric ER, pediatric ICU, etc), and coursework covers topics such as the scientific underpinnings of advanced nursing practice, translating evidence into practice systems, clinical prevention & population health, and a pediatric acute care residency. In the online MSN-to-DNP PNP-PC program, USA asks students to complete an additional two-day orientation for the first clinical course. Classes include quality improvement outcomes assessment and healthcare policy & finance.
The online MSN-to-DNP PNP programs vary in length by whether a student enrolls part- or full-time, but they typically take two years to complete. Coursework varies by prior college courses completed and generally involves at least 37 credits, some of which may be transferred from prior programs. Contact individual program coordinators for details.
After securing a degree from an accredited, online PNP program, most graduates pursue national certification. There are two main organizations which provide this: the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCP).
The ANCC offers the pediatric primary care nurse practitioner board certified (PPCNP-BC) credential. To qualify, a candidate must have the following:
This certification is valid for five years and can be renewed following the completion of 75 hours of continuing education (CE) in the PNP specialty—25 of which must be in pharmacotherapeutics—as well as 1,000 practice hours, among other requirements. Since renewal procedures are variable, prospective PNPs are encouraged to check out the ANCC renewal requirements page for the most current information.
Finally, the PNCP provides two certifications for PNPs. To qualify for the Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Acute Care (CPNP-AC) or Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner-Primary Care (CPNP-PC) credentials, the prerequisites are similar:
The exams take three hours to complete, comprising 175 multiple-choice questions. These certifications are valid for one year. Renewal requirements typically involve at least four required pediatric update modules and 15 hours of pediatric pharmacology training, although requirements vary for the seven-year recertification tracking cycle. For the most recent requirements, candidates are urged to check out the PNCB CPNP-AC Recertification Guide or PNCB CPNP-PC Recertification Guide.